One of the problems in BLOG-writing is that some of the most important ideas are written about once and then never seen again. Such is the case with our “buying process” discussion, which first appeared two years ago. So, because it is such an important subject and because I will be out of the country next week, here are the salient steps (with up-to-date revisions) you should undertake in “The Buying Process” — once again.

More “live to regret it” decisions are made during the buying process than you can probably imagine. Worse, the wasted money that your company will spend — and, the wasted time your workers will invest in ineffective training initiatives — will do far more harm than good.

Let’s start with the previewing process. A process that is routine with almost all training purchases — whether it involves preview portal access with E-Learning or sample demo CD-ROM or text products.

During this initial step in the buying process, one of the biggest of all mistakes is made. And, it’s made time and time again — because the decision makers do not thoroughly grasp the ultimate goal of training initiatives: “To bring less-skilled workers to greater proficiency levels or to cross-train workers who need to move from ‘little knowledge’ to ‘proficiency skills’.”

To accomplish the above objective you need to understand the ideal “previewing committee” process: “Individuals in your organization who understand Learning, plus one content expert should evaluate the previews you are considering.”

Unfortunately, many preview evaluations are seldom performed this ideal way. For a lack of understanding of “The Learning Process,” committees composed exclusively of content experts are given the task of selecting the “best” preview product. A guaranteed way to continually make the wrong choice!

Content experts, too often, get excited about learning something from the preview that they, themselves, did not already know — totally forgetting the objective of the preview evaluation. And then, mistakenly, endorsing that preview as their number one choice.

Oops! The less-skilled or unskilled workers are going to suffer because of those misguided choices made by that content experts committee.

What you need is a committee of individuals who: 1) understand Learning; 2) the skill level of the workers to be trained; and 3) the skills required to do the tasks they will be expected to perform. Plus, one content expert to validate the information presented.

Previews should never be evaluated by an exclusive team of content experts simply because those individuals are looking at “information knowledge” and not at “basic skills training requirements for the less-skilled.”

You would be wise to think through your own situation to determine what voices will serve you well. Remember, we’re not playing “Jeopardy” here. We’re attempting to increase skills in order for your workforce to become more contributive to your organization. You will successfully do that only if your selection committee can recognize the difference between Skills Training (the simulated “Doing” of a task) and non-applicable Information Knowledge that, often, cannot be transferred to the actual job.

The second step in the buying process should be a “Readability Review.”

Ever hear of the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests?

There are two of them: The Flesch Reading Easiness and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tests. They use the same core measures: word length and sentence length. It’s the latter test that should concern you when making a training purchase decision.

National studies agree that close to half of our workforce does not read above a 4th Grade level. And, even more disturbing is the fact that only slightly more than one-third of our high school graduates can comprehend and form opinions from what they read today.

Here’s an illustrative story. Some time ago the CEO of a major automobile manufacturer did a study and discovered that the written communications and procedures being used by his corporation were the cause of many plant accidents and inefficiencies. He found out that the problem was a result of two things: a) those written communications were being written, for the most part, by college graduates and b) many of his employees had difficulty in reading comprehension.

So, he ordered that every document in his corporation be re-written to a 6th Grade reading level. Only after this project failed to make much improvement in plant efficiencies did he publicly state that he should have required a 4th Grade reading level.

What does all this mean to you? Well, when making your training purchase decisions it would serve you well to ask the vendor what Grade Level Test had been applied to his products. Unfortunately, I would bet that he’ll give you a blank stare.

“Never heard of such a thing,” he’ll likely say.

Well, that will tell you all you really need to know. That vendor understands very little about the Learning process. He’s only in the business of taking your money. His products are not designed to improve the quality of life for your workforce nor to add to your company’s bottom line.

Knowledgeable corporations and the U.S. Department of Defense require either the Reading Easiness test or the Grade Level test before purchasing any written training material. So should you!

The third step in your buying process should be “The Review of the Media Used.”

Confucius is credited with the following:


So it is with modern media training. While the “doing” is mostly vicarious, the learning results are close to ideal.

That is, if the programs you are evaluating for purchase are based on multisensory media (full-motion video and optional word-for-word audio) — with a minimum emphasis on the written word. (And, as you know by now, the written word will mostly fail to communicate with almost half of your workforce.) Other positive components can include animations, brilliantly designed graphics and stills in order to emphasize the “doing” part of the training.

All of this is designed to facilitate the “do” in learning. It’s what we mean when we discuss effective skills training. Education may teach us theory, facts, opinions and intellectual understanding. Training makes it possible for us to do things better and to acquire new skills.

As Thomas Jefferson once said, “What we learn to do, we learn by doing.”

Of course, you also need to examine the instructional design behind any courseware you are considering. You should require the following elements:

1) Navigation through the course is simple, consistent and intuitive. In other words, are the screens user-friendly and obvious to the learner?

2) The instruction is both meaningful and interactive. In other words, are the individual units of instruction performance based and require meaningful responses from the learner? In addition, knowledgeable instructional design will segment the course into very small units of instruction, each tied directly to a performance objective.

3) Adult learning characteristics are accommodated. In other words, are the designed communication techniques consistent with the learning culture of the individuals to be trained.

4) Administrative management requirements are satisfied. In other words, the test results, time spent, etc. are readily incorporated into your LMS.

5) The media used is appropriately integrated into the learning experience. In other words, the full-motion video, graphics, stills and animations are directly appropriate to the subject being taught.

The final review-subject should be “The Customer Support Review” —an activity that many of you don’t realize is even possible. After all, customer support shows its pretty or ugly head sometime after the sale.

And, in many ways, that’s true. Some vendors regard their customer support activities only from a cost control standpoint. They believe that a customer support function is nothing but an expense item. So, they try to put roadblocks between them and the customer in order to delay the inevitable as long as possible in the hope that it will “just go away.”

Unfortunately, far too many training vendors put a “Contact Us” on their website, BUT only provide an e-Mail method of contact — no phone number!

Other vendors place the caller into a voice mail activity, bypassing the customer’s need to get immediate service even though that customer may have a class of learners waiting without a solid internet connection to the purchased courseware.

What can you do during your review process in order to minimize your chances of ending up with one of those non-customer oriented vendors?

Well, you should ask your salesperson for a “number to call” in the event of a problem and an e-Mail address to contact whenever you’re experiencing problems.

Now, run a test. Call the number provided and time how long it takes for them to get back with you. Ditto with the e-Mail address. The answer to those two tests will tell you a lot about the future problems you are going to encounter with that particular vendor.

We all know that technology is not perfect. There will always be hiccups. And, most of us know enough not to expect perfection.

But, it is not too much to expect vendors to treat those imperfections with the care and concern you, their customer, deserve.

Some vendors are truly customer oriented. Find one of those. It will save you a lot of grief.

I will return to the United States on May 15. More on that following Tuesday.

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning